8 Functional Teas & Their Cultural Significance

Bowls of functional tea ingredients and steeped tea in a glass teapot

If it seems like there’s a tea for everything, that’s because it’s true! For years, teas have been used as home remedies in many cultures.

From soothing upset stomachs to providing a midday boost of energy, tea really can do it all. Here are a few delicious functional teas and the cultures that discovered them.

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Green Tea

Green tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is also the same plant that makes black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and all other “true” teas. Different tea types develop based on external factors like harvest period, oxidation, and growing conditions.

Green tea leaves are among the first harvested and oxidized, which means they are incredibly rich in polyphenols, which include flavanols, flavonols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. Green tea also contains caffeine in L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes mental clarity and relaxation.

The origins of green tea are shrouded in mystery, but one way or another, people in Ancient China discovered this magical drink. Chinese monks were the first to drink green tea regularly, but the drink quickly spread throughout the country. 

Today, green tea is an important part of Chinese weddings and daily life. At Chinese weddings, the newly married couple often makes green tea for their parents to represent their newfound family.

Matcha

Matcha is made from powdered green tea leaves, and it’s essentially a concentrated form of green tea. Matcha has similar benefits to green tea, but it is significantly higher in caffeine. In fact, matcha has more caffeine than a shot of espresso!

Of course, the caffeine in tea is processed differently in our bodies than the caffeine in coffee — this means your matcha may have more caffeine than an espresso shot, but you won’t experience the jitters and crash that can follow coffee consumption.

Besides its caffeine content, matcha is also high in chlorophyll and contains potent antioxidants. One of these antioxidants is EGCG, an antioxidant known for its ability to help fight off long-term illness.

Matcha is deeply steeped in Japanese tradition, where it originated as a drink for Buddhist monks. As matcha began to trickle into daily life, it soon gained a place in the Japanese tea ceremony

This tea ceremony focuses on the spiritual elements of drinking tea and being one with others and nature. The ceremony uses only the highest quality of matcha, which is why high-quality matcha is referred to as ceremonial matcha. 

One lovely ceremonial matcha is Baahtcha Matcha Organic Ceremonial Matcha. This high-quality matcha is perfect for traditional ceremonies or casual enjoyment — whichever’s your cup of tea!

Rooibos

Rooibos tea is a typically caffeine-free herbal tea that comes from the South African Rooibos plant. Because this herbal tea has no caffeine, it’s often used as a base for caffeine-free black tea alternatives like chai rooibos or rooibos earl grey.

Rooibos is a South African folk remedy for acid reflux. Although there is no conclusive evidence, this tea has a wide reputation for addressing acid reflux and other conditions. Rooibos is even a wonderful tea for seasonal allergies!

Rooibos has been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years by South Africans. Even the San people — who were one of the first people groups to inhabit South Africa — used rooibos as a medicinal herb. Rooibos only grows in South Africa, where it remains a local favorite.

Chai

Chai is traditionally made from Assam black tea, grown in the Assam province of India. Because of its black tea base, chai is high in caffeine and antioxidants. 

Although chai has several uses, its main benefit is that it can help soothe an upset stomach. Not only does this tea contain black tea, it also traditionally features spices such as cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ginger, and cardamom. 

These spices are all known to help soothe irritation and help with digestive discomfort, which makes this tea a lovely sick-day pick-me-up.

Chai comes from India, where chai recipes are passed down through generations and households. Traditional chai is often made with hot or steamed milk and sugar, but many households make their own chai and have signature blends of spices that create bold and unique flavors. 

Chai grew in popularity thanks to the development of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Tea shops set up stalls on the platforms and in the train stations, and soon the traveling experience was inseparable from a cup of warm chai. 

Turmeric

Turmeric tea comes from the turmeric plant, which is in the same family as the ginger plant. This root is also used as a strong yellow dye, so it’s no wonder that the tea is bright yellow. Turmeric is native to southern India and Indonesia and is widely cultivated on the mainlands and in the islands of the Indian Ocean. 

While turmeric tea is delicious, this drink can also help boost your mood! Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to reduce swelling. This tea has been shown to increase BDNF levels, a protein that helps regulate feelings of sadness and low energy. In fact, it may even support serotonin and dopamine production in your brain.

Indians primarily use turmeric today as a spice, and it is a signature part of many Indian meals. However, turmeric also plays a large role in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. In these circles, turmeric represents fertility and luck. Because of this, turmeric is often featured in wedding ceremonies.

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate comes from the yerba mate plant, which grows natively in South America. Depending on how it’s harvested and brewed, yerba mate can taste earthy and bittersweet.

Like green tea, yerba mate naturally contains quite a bit of caffeine. In fact, its caffeine content is more than a cup of black tea but less than a cup of coffee. If you have caffeine sensitivity but can’t quit your morning cuppa, then yerba mate might just be the tea for you!

In South American culture, yerba mate is enjoyed among friends and family. Instead of using a teapot, traditional methods of brewing yerba mate include a hollowed-out gourd filled with hot water and tea bits, a metal straw inserted into the gourd, and a piece of mesh to filter out the tea bits.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Moroccan mint tea is not your average mint tea. Instead, it’s made from mint leaves, steeped gunpowder tea, and sugar.

Mint tea is best known for its ability to help soothe an upset stomach. This tea can help ease digestion and move uncomfortable gas through your digestive system. Since Moroccan mint tea is also based on gunpowder tea, which is a form of green tea, it can also provide a bit of a caffeine boost.

In Morocco, tea is closely tied to hospitality. Mint tea in particular is a staple of Moroccan cuisine, and hosts often serve Moroccan mint tea to their guests as a show of welcome and hospitality.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea comes from the chamomile plant, which originates in Europe. However, this plant is now a common weed in many American states.

Chamomile tea is famous for its ability to send the drinker to sleep. Not only does chamomile communicate with your brain that it’s time to sleep, but it can also act as a mild sedative to help you get better sleep.

The ancient Egyptians believed that chamomile could help with ailments, and worshiped the herb as a god. Nowadays we have science to back up the health benefits of chamomile, and today tea is still widely incorporated into sleepytime rituals.

In Conclusion

All teas have a cultural story to tell. With so many teas in the world, knowing their cultural background can make the tea-drinking experience richer.

Teas such as green tea, rooibos, and yerba mate don’t only have deep cultural roots; they also have lovely health benefits! These wellness teas can help soothe upset stomachs, boost energy, and even help you get a good night’s sleep. Really, what can’t tea do?

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Shop these wellness teas to help with anxiety, stress, sleep, detox, colds, energy, and more. Take care of your body while relaxing with a hot cup of tea.

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About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate. 

Sources:

The Real Story Behind South Africa's Rooibos Tea | Explore Sideways 

Chai Tea for Digestion - Pacific College 

Turmeric Health Benefits | Cleveland Clinic

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